The importance of the immune system in conferring protection against pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites is well established. In contrast, there is a long-lasting debate on whether cancer prevention is a major immune system function.
Our immune system is complex and influenced by many factors. Incorporating healthy ways to boost the immune system into your routine is important. Eating well and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits are the best ways to boost the immune system. There are plenty of supplements that claim to enhance immunity. Discuss with your doctor the best immune support supplements.
The function of the immune system
The immune system is the body’s defence system that protects the body against illness and infection by bacteria, viruses, fungi and other harmful parasites. It is a collection of responses the body makes to damaged cells or infections. So, it is sometimes referred to as an immune response. The immune system is important for cancer patients because cancer or associated treatments might weaken the immune system. The immune system may help to fight against cancer.
Cancer treatments affect the immune system
Cancer may enter the bone marrow and weaken the immune system. This happens mostly in leukaemia or lymphoma but can also happen with other cancers. Cancer stops the bone marrow from making so many blood cells. The following treatments temporarily weaken the immune system as they cause a drop in the number of white blood cells.
- Targeted cancer drugs
- High dose of steroids
Immune system fight against cancer
Some cells in the immune system can recognize abnormal or cancerous cells and kill them. There are few available treatments which use the immune system to fight cancer.
There are two parts of the immune system
- The protection we have from birth or Innate Immunity- is the ability to fight disease by the immune system from birth. It is the first line of defence. The cells which make up the Innate immune system are as follows:
- Macrophages – these are killer cells that attack pathogens and kill them
- Neutrophils – these cells are the first line of defence against infection. They kill bacteria and die with them.
- Dendritic cells – they direct the T-cells and B- cells to the pathogens
- Mast cells and Basophils – they produce histamines and fight against allergens
- Natural killers – they are rapid response cells that attack viruses and may also be aggressive in attacking cancerous and pre-cancerous cells
- Acquired immunity – it is the ability acquired by the body to adaption and fight against the disease. The following cells form the Acquired or Adaptive immune system:
- B-cells – they are produced in the bone marrow and develop antibodies that fight against disease-causing organisms
- T-cells – The bone marrow also produces them, but they mature in the thymus. T-cells help in the production of antibodies.
Acquired immunity stores the information after fighting the pathogens. When the body gets infected again, they use that information to fight against them more aggressively and effectively, hence the name Acquired or Adaptive Immunity.
How cancer cells evade the immune system
How do cancerous cells evade the immune system if the immune system is so powerful? Is it that cancer overpowers immunity due to weakness? Cancerous cells can also evade the immune system because they always start in normal cells, and the immune system doesn’t recognize them as foreign cells. This led to cancerous cells getting so high in number that they overpowered the immune system.
The immune system regularly fights pathogens or cancer cells, but there’s a tipping point at which cancer begins to overwhelm the immune system. But there are treatment methods which can jumpstart and enhance the immune system’s ability to fight against cancerous cells. Immunotherapy has been developed and researched to fight against cancer.
Drugs and other methods enhance the patient’s immune system and help the body fight against it. Researchers have found ways to help the immune system find cancerous cells and kill them.
In this immune system finds the cancerous cells and kills them. Cancerous cells are different from normal cells so that the immune system can identify and kill them. Monoclonal antibodies (MABs) recognize the protein surface of cancer cells, vaccines which can enhance immunity, and CAR T-cell therapy changes the genes in a person’s white blood cells, leading to the development of agents that enhance the ability of the immune system to kill the cancerous cells.
Immunotherapy doesn’t just find and kill the cancerous cells directly but kick-starts the body’s powerful immune system to recognize and kill cancer. The immune system is the best way to fight any disease and pathogens, as our body is learning ways to get rid of cancer with the help of doctors.
Ways to boost immune health
Vaccines build immunity against specific infectious diseases. There are some additional ways to boost the immune system. These are eating well, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep, not smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption.
Certain vitamins and supplements to boost the immune system are often recommended to strengthen the immune system. Vitamins to boost the immune system are Vitamin C and Vitamin D, which helps to strengthen immune system cells. If you are worried about your nutritional deficiency, you should consult a doctor before taking a supplement for a week immune system. Your doctor will recommend the best immune booster for you. If you think you may be required vitamins, ask your doctor, they can suggest the best vitamins to boost your immune system.
The bottom line!
Cancer may lead to the weakening of the immune system by spreading into the bone marrow. The bone marrow forms blood cells that help to fight infection. This happens more often in leukaemia and lymphoma cases but can also occur with other cancers.
Cancer treatment that is more likely to affect the immune system is chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted cancer drugs, and high dose of steroids. Immunity is your body’s defence against infections and diseases. Taking care of yourself will help your immune system take care of you.